Powerlifter Louise Sugden competed at London 2012 and saw a nation awakened to the ability of para-athletes. 

As a multi-sport Games returns to England 10 years later in the form of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, the 37-year-old believes it can have a similar legacy.

Since the London Paralympics, Sugden has switched from wheelchair basketball to para powerlifting and is enjoying shining a light on what is possible for disabled people.

This summer, Team England, supported by National Lottery funding, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Sugden is looking to capitalise on the opportunity for medal success in her home country. 

“I feel like London made people realise that disabled people weren't just having a go at sport, they were actually pretty good at it,” explained the Newbury star, who is one of over 1,100 elite athletes on UK Sport’s National Lottery-funded World Class Programme, allowing them to train full time, have access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support.

“It wasn't just a pity thing. It was a wow, they're good. And I think that the Paralympics just had never had that kind of exposure before where people realise that para-athletes work darn hard, and they are actually elite at what they do.  

“And I think that was the change with London, people just hadn't really seen parasport before. And what the London 2012 organisers did so well was filling stadiums, but not with random people, people actually were keen to get there.

“That was one of my favourite things about it was that buzz around the Paralympics, as well as the Olympics.

“From what I've seen, Birmingham is doing a really good job of engaging school kids. I think that is fantastic.

“I think that is only going to do good things for world sport and para-sport at the same time, so I think that's the kind of legacy that they're building at the moment.”

With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Sugden hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

In a sport like para powerlifting, Sugden is not only challenging the stereotype of what people with disabilities can do, but also women. 

Sugden admits that the women who inspired her when she was younger were strong mentally, but physically strong women were few and far between. 

Now, the Gold Coast 2018 silver medallist must only look at the other women in her heavyweight class for inspiration. 

She added: “The standard in my weight class, specifically, is enormous compared to what it was. As an example of my first World Championships, I lifted 96 kilos, and I finished 10th.  

“At the next one, I lifted 120 kilos and finished seventh. So, I lifted over 20 kilos more and only moved up through ranking places.  

“It shows you the progress within the sport, especially the women's side of the sport and now my weight class is so tight.

“I mean, it's a great challenge at competitions. I could medal or I could come fifth or sixth. It just adds a little bit more excitement to it. 

“I think more women are getting into strength sports, which is fantastic. I love that. Not being afraid to be strong as a female. 

“I think that's a real progression I've seen in the last few years, and it's celebrated a lot more than it would have been previously.” 

But for Sugden, who won Paralympic bronze at Tokyo 2020, being an inspired strong woman is secondary to inspiring strong women. 

“If I can inspire one young woman to get into the gym and find out how strong she can be, then I feel like I've done what I want to do," Sugden said.

“I don't want people to put a limit on themselves, because I never thought I would be as strong as I am now.  

“And to be this strong, and to spread the word to people that being strong is pretty cool and especially young women.  

“I think that's a good message and something that I definitely want to try and get out there as much as possible.”

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